Aboriginal Artist Albert Namatjira


Essay on Albert Namatjira

The artist Albert Namatjira was born on 28 July, 1902. Despite being raised in traditional Western Australian culture of the time, his birth name was Elea Namatjira. When he turned thirteen he was introduced to Aboriginal culture for the first time, and though this influence can be seen in his art, his paintings are largely inspired by Western culture, evocative of a view of Australia that is without specific reference to Aboriginal culture, customs, or religion. As the first Aboriginal person to be granted Australian citizenship in 1957, he was the first aboriginal man who could legally vote in his own country.

As a professional essay writer, I will briefly consider Namatjira’s life and art. After his introduction to aboriginal culture, he took on their culture in his life, marrying an aboriginal woman named Rubina when he was eighteen years old. Though she was an aboriginal, she was a different skin colour than Namatjira. Because of this, they were ostracized for several years. Namatiijra seems to have learned to accept what would have been at the time considered deviant behaviour, as his mother was also a woman of the “wrong” colour.

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In his work in Melbourne, he was introduced to and become acquaintances with Rex Batarbee, who wanted to paint the aboriginal landscape. Namatjira had always had an interest in art, and in return for painting lessons, he showed Batarbee around the landscape, taking him to places that were particularly beautiful and that Baterbee may not have otherwise found.

Once he had learned the basics of watercolouring from Batarbee in 1936, he couldn’t be stopped. By 1938 he had his first exhibition. People loved his distinctive style, a blend of the rugged landscape and multiple odes to his love of trees. Trees appear everywhere in his paintings. While he drew heavily from Western art, it was the landscape of his ancestors he was painting, and he used the typical colour palette of aboriginal art to accent his western leanings.

In part due to his talent and entrepreneurship along with his famous fans (notably, Queen Elizabeth II), he became quite wealthy in a relatively short amount of time. He continued to paint for until his death, but his later life was fraught with some difficulties. Because by the time of his success he was not being ostracised anymore, he was expected to follow the rules of the tribe and share his income. Because of his wealth, at certain points he was monetarily caring for 600 people. This put a strain on him to the extent that he leased a cattle station to supplement his income. However, because his ancestors had not owned the cattle station he was leasing, it was overturned from him and leased to someone else with an ancestral claim. After multiple failed attempts at getting a house for himself and his immediate family, Namatjira took up residence in poverty in a shantytown.

An aboriginal woman named Fay Iowa was killed in the shantytown and Namatjira was held blamed. Because his Australian citizenship granted him the right to buy alcohol, it was supposed he had supplied Iowa with alcohol. He was sentenced to 6 months in prison but only served two. He died two years later after a heart attack from complications of pneumonia on August 8th, 1959.